Monday, February 27, 2012

Referendum in Syria on New Constitution

Syrians have voted on a new draft constitution aimed at quelling the country’s uprising by ending the ruling Baath Party’s five-decade domination of power, but the Opposition announced a boycott and clashes were reported across the country. The move could keep President Bashar al-Assad in power until 2028. The result is viewed as a foregone conclusion.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin issued a strong warning to the West against military intervention in Syria, its longtime ally, but US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made clear there was no enthusiasm in Washington for war.
The International Red Cross and Syrian Arab Red Crescent were still negotiating with Syrian authorities and the opposition in an effort to get aid into strife-torn areas of the embattled city of Homs, where conditions were said to be grim.
The country has 14.6 million eligible voters who were asked to cast ballots on whether they approve or reject the recently drafted constitution in more than 14,000 polling stations around the country.
In regions like the restive central city of Homs, where shelling by government forces has left hundreds dead, or the northwestern province of Idlib and the southern region of Daraa where rebels clash frequently with the security forces, turnout is likely to be minimal.
Antigovernment Protests
More than 5000 people have been killed in Syria's violent crackdown against protesters, the UN rights chief has told the Security Council, recommending that the regime of President Al-Assad be referred to the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.
Foreign journalists were taken by the Information Ministry to the Damascus neighborhood of Rukneddine and the Damascus suburb of Barzeh that witnessed antigovernment protests in the past months. Few voters were at the polling stations in either area.
Earlier this month, President Al-Assad called for a referendum on the new constitution — which allows for at least a theoretical opening of the country’s political system — as an effort to placate critics and end the 11-month uprising against his rule.
Creating Multiparty System
The new charter would create a multiparty system in Syria, which has been ruled by the Arab Socialist Baath Party since a 1963 coup. It also states that the president, who has been a member of the Assad family since 1970, can only be in office for a maximum of two seven-year terms.
Such changes were unthinkable a year ago, but after the uprising began in March and Assad’s crackdown that killed thousands of people, the vast majority of opposition groups say they accept nothing less than Assad abandoning power.
The two main umbrella opposition groups, the Syrian National Council and the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change in Syria, have called for a boycott. Some groups have also called for a general strike to coincide with the referendum.
In the capital Damascus, where Assad retains support among religious minorities and the business class, many said they were eager to vote.
Party Pluralism
According to a civil servant, “This is a good constitution. It calls for party pluralism and the president can only hold the post for two terms. These did not exist in the past.”
In Barzeh, which recently witnessed intense antigovernment protests, about 20 percent of the shops were closed, apparently in compliance with the calls for a strike. Turnout was very low at a polling station in the area, with a person coming every few minutes to cast a ballot. In Rukneddine, turnout was also low. People cast ballots as they arrived with no need to stand in line.
UN Resolution
The UN General Assembly has already voted 137 to 12 to approve a resolution calling for an immediate halt to President Al-Assad's violent crackdown on dissent.
China, Russia and Iran were among the nations that opposed the text put forward by Egypt and other Arab states that condemned "widespread and systematic violations of human rights" in Syria.
Seventeen UN member states abstained from voting on the resolution, which came just days after Russia and China joined forces to use their veto power to derail a similar text in the UN Security Council.
The International Red Cross and Syrian Arab Red Crescent were still negotiating with Syrian authorities and the opposition in an effort to get aid into strife-torn areas of the embattled city of Homs, where conditions were said to be grim.
The only way to resolve the situation in Syria is through a Syrian-led political process, and that means dialog. The Western nations instead switch gears and turn into regime change mode, discouraging dialog, discouraging dialogue within Syria, discouraging dialog between the Arab League and Syria. This is very dangerous.
In fact they make no secret of the fact that they want regime change. In numerous statements you can trace their policy, which cannot be conducive to a political process.
No one wants to see a repeat of Libya in Syria, or of the war in Iraq, which went against a decision by the UN Security Council. Any decision on Syria will require the support and shared responsibility of Moscow to make it legitimate. One suggestion is for Russia to guarantee the interests and security of the minorities in Syria, Lebanon and Egypt, who fear reprisals by the Sunni majority if Al-Assad government (a privileged minority) were to fall. This would be a way for Russia to take a morally correct and a politically promising stance.

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